• Cierra Chenier

#BlackTechNOLA Recap: New Orleans' Growing Industry

As New Orleans natives, we have always known what we were capable of bringing to the table, that is, IF there was a table accessible to us to begin with. We are in an important era where not only mainstream media, but major industries and companies are recognizing the value that we knew New Orleans had all along. The city has made several advancements and improvements upon its tricentennial year, with our growing technology industry at the forefront. We already dominate food, music, art, and culture; and tech is becoming yet another industry that we can add to our resumé. New companies and industries bring about new jobs and opportunities. So Black New Orleans, the time is now. It is imperative that we take advantage of the possibilities among us and take part in important conversations that affect us in this era.

This past Essence Festival weekend (July 5, July 6), NOLAVATE Black provided a platform for these much-needed conversations with its two-day tech conference, Black Tech NOLA. The NOLAVATE Black team (Sabrina Short, Executive Producer, Nik Stephany, Senior Producer and Editor, Jourdan Clark, Volunteer and Service Specialist, Marlo McCloud, Media Coordinator) put forth the effort to produce an amazing, necessary event relative to the Black tech professionals of New Orleans.

Black Tech NOLA, hosted by Kyndra Joi, was held at the New Orleans Board of Trade with the intention to "connect Black tech professionals and entrepreneurs of color to innovators, founders, and investors with the objective of strengthening the Black tech ecosystem in the Greater New Orleans Region." The main stage was powered by DXC Technology, a global tech company new to New Orleans, that is on track to provide over 2,000 jobs to the city. Panel discussions were held regarding topics of diversity, inclusion, education, funding, marketing, etc. and fun, interactive innovation labs were powered by Microsoft and AT&T. In a private room, Kendall Spears of Operation Spark conducted coding lessons with the purpose of "providing opportunity to give underserved people the opportunity to learn technology."

Innovation Lab -- Microsoft

I attended Black Tech NOLA on Thursday, July 6th and had the opportunity to gain important insight from both the Education in Tech and Diversity in Media panels.

Education in Tech

Jonathan Johnson (left), Elan Jones (right)

"The power lies in the creation of technology."

- Elan Jones, Operation Spark

Speaker Elan Jones of Operation Spark and Speaker Jonathan Johnson of Rooted School (an organization aiming to "prepare students for college and provide a consistent, local talent pipeline to NOLA's high-growth wage industries") discussed the disparities within education in technology, how to bridge these gaps, and the buying power of the Black community.

Diversity in Media

Speaker Iman Shervington serves as the Director of Media and Communication at the Institute of Women and Ethnic Studies. She wears many hats as a writer, editor, and director, and premiered her upcoming film "Woke," which touches on "the topic of mental wellness and the impact of trauma on the growth and well-being of a young person." Shervington led the direction of the panel, stressing the importance of equity and representation of people of color in media, collaboration, and culture preservation.

Iman Shervington (left), Brandan "B-Mike" Odums (right)

Speaker Brandan "B-Mike" Odums, visual artist, filmmaker, and owner of StudioBe (a must see in New Orleans), answered questions relating to Diversity in Media, providing tips important to Black creatives in technology, and insight that stresses the importance of telling OUR stories.

Some takeaways from Odums' responses:

  • "We can do better in being more intentional about making sure that we "pass it on," especially as we see the erasure of stories, the erasure of culture.. we start understanding the urgency of making sure that it doesn't end with us."

  • The ability of technology to "level the playing field" and give us "the agency to articulate our story and determine our future without it having to be dictated [...] these are tools that are allowing us to carve our own path."

  • Education as a key part of his work -- "It's important to be conscious of the responsibility we have [...] we have an opportunity to counter a single narrative through media."

  • Not being afraid to "turn down things that don't align with who you are and what you believe."

  • On the importance of collaboration: "When you think about Dr. King, Malcolm X, you think of them as singular entities, not acknowledging that they were a part of an entire collective that made them who they are."

Learn more about Black Tech NOLA at http://nolavateblack.com.

See photos from the event below: